Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Schofield Family: The Internship that Changed My Life

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and working closely with the Schofield family. It was one of those rare karmic collisions that just worked out. I was a university student somewhat obsessed with solving the riddle of schizophrenia, in need of an internship. I didn't really know who I wanted to work for, or in what capacity.

The notion of working with geriatric patients depressed me- I had served a brief and bitter stint as a hospice intern and had failed miserably. It was hard for me to be around dying people on a daily basis. At the hospice, patients kept asking me to read the bible aloud, to hold their hands, to retrieve their absent adult children...for answers that no twenty-something is really prepared to give. I felt stretched beyond my limitations, and I deeply resented my supervisor for cracking "death" jokes, and exaggerating visitation records in order to secure more company funds. Hospice work gutted me to my core. And so I quit. I hacked out an angry email to my supervisor's superior and turned in my badge. Hospice wasn't for me.

About a week later, I caught the end of a special on television which featured Jani's family. It made me sob. I was just wrecked. For as strong as Susan and Michael are, they looked so tired and sad. There was something in their faces that I recognized and identified with. At that time, I couldn't imagine how or why the parent of a mentally ill child might grieve, but I saw it in their faces. Loss. Inexplicable loss.

That night, I wrote Michael's name down on a napkin and stuffed it into my pocket. When I got home, I looked him up on facebook.

As luck would have it, I found out that they needed some help during their radio show on Sundays. I wrote a brief formal email introducing myself, and received an invitation from their family to come and try things out.

I remember my first day on the job. I didn't have a clue of what I was doing. Surely, my head was buzzing with psychological theories and ideas, but none of those theories really applied. I couldn't really think of anything to talk about, and so I made small-talk, asking about safe topics like family vacations. They couldn't fly, Michael explained. Keeping their children safe was their first priority.

I felt very at home with the Schofields. I burned a batch of cookies in their apartment the weekend before my wedding ( I was so nervous), and Susan was there to offer kind words. I miss those quiet conversations we shared.

Day by day, my determination to remain emotionally uninvolved and neutral dissolved into cookie monster impressions. I made teddy bears talk, and cars vroom.

I came to love their family. I mean, I really came to love them.

It's hard for people who haven't experienced extreme adversity to really appreciate the bravery of people like Susan and Michael. Each day, they get up and they keep going. They meet the skeptics and douche-bags head on, and they continue to fight for a new world- a world that understands mental illness and treats it accordingly.

We may not agree on everything under the sun, but we agree that things need to change. Mental healthcare should be taken seriously. Mentally ill children and adults need services and access to medication.

As a society, we shouldn't just leave people behind because they are ill. Broken legs and broken minds need and deserve treatment.

I have carried these mantras with me, inside of my heart.

Bravery means standing up and fighting for the rights of those within society who do not have a voice. I admire that the Schofields have been able to stand up and make this cause ( a cause that belongs to every one of us) heard. Susan is a visionary who grasps the importance of this work.

But I am also ashamed of myself.

I'm ashamed that my slated profession- my supposedly "acclaimed" community of therapists, doctors, psychiatric nurses, and psych interns etc. have not done enough to help the Schofields and families like them.

We are taught so much nonsense about mental illness in schools and by society. I am tired of people blaming the mentally ill for their woes. Mental illness is just as serious as AIDS. Mental illness kills.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a precarious position.

I have been asked to testify against a therapist that harmed and victimized me. I am faced with a choice. I can stand up and testify, knowing that I will face opposition- knowing that my medical records will be scrutinized, and my history with this therapist will be made public, or I can shirk away.

I made the decision tonight to testify.

I might lose. I might end up looking like the biggest fool on the planet. They might drag my entire sexual history out into the open, but if asked, I will testify anyway.

In good conscience, I cannot silently sit by and allow a monster-psychotherapist to continue to practice.

When I considered if I could emotionally handle the stress of a deposition/ or being placed on the stand, I asked myself what Susan would do...

Susan would go in there, and she would testify and she would WIN.

So will I.

I have so many flaws. Lord knows I am a mess! Friendships gone bad, illicit and crazy affairs with married men, history of depression, current diagnosis of Post-traumatic stress disorder... but this is who I am and I will not hide.

If I hide, nothing changes. If people like me hide, nothing changes.

So, I'm dragging my tired, traumatized, grief-stricken, self through a trial, if need be. I will look my victimizer in the eye, and I will tell my story.

Michael's book " January First" tells his story. It is a story that you should read and pay attention to.

You can check out Michael's book here @

His Blog can be found here @

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